Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Sprague's Pipit

Anthus spragueii

Audubon called this bird the "Missouri skylark," because he found it singing in the sky over the prairies along the upper Missouri River. Sprague's Pipit delivers its breathy flight-song while hovering high in the air, often for minutes at a time, over the northern Great Plains in summer. In winter, it becomes an elusive skulker in the short grass of dry prairies. Unlike the American Pipit, Sprague's never occurs in flocks. Even where it is common in winter, the birds flush singly from the grass, to circle high in the air before diving steeply to land again.
Conservation status Numbers have declined in much of range as breeding habitat has been converted to agricultural fields.
Family Wagtails and Pipits
Habitat Plains, shortgrass prairies. Breeds in relatively dry grassland, especially native prairie, avoiding brushy areas and cultivated fields. Winters in similar shortgrass habitats including pastures and prairies, and grassy patches within fields of crops such as alfalfa.
Audubon called this bird the "Missouri skylark," because he found it singing in the sky over the prairies along the upper Missouri River. Sprague's Pipit delivers its breathy flight-song while hovering high in the air, often for minutes at a time, over the northern Great Plains in summer. In winter, it becomes an elusive skulker in the short grass of dry prairies. Unlike the American Pipit, Sprague's never occurs in flocks. Even where it is common in winter, the birds flush singly from the grass, to circle high in the air before diving steeply to land again.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, usually among fairly dense short grass, searching for insects and seeds. Forages alone, not in flocks.


Eggs

4-5, rarely 3-6. Whitish, heavily spotted with maroon or purplish-brown. Incubation is probably by female, incubation period not well known. Adult does not fly to nest, but lands several feet away and walks there. Incubating bird may not flush from nest until approached within a few feet. Young: Fed by female, possibly by male, but details not well known. May leave nest as early as 10-11 days after hatching, before able to fly well. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.


Young

Fed by female, possibly by male, but details not well known. May leave nest as early as 10-11 days after hatching, before able to fly well. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects, some seeds. Diet is not known in detail. Apparently eats mainly insects, especially in summer, including grasshoppers, crickets, various beetles, moths, and others. Also eats many small seeds of grasses and weeds, perhaps more in fall and winter. Young birds are fed almost entirely on insects.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory, spiraling up to 300' or even higher above the ground, then hovering and circling for several minutes while singing repeatedly. In some cases, a single song-flight may last half an hour or even longer. Nest site is on ground in grassy field, usually in a slight depression or tucked into the side of a clump of grass. Nest (probably built by female) is a solidly woven cup of dry grass stems, sometimes lined with finer grass. Often has grass arched over the top, with entrance at the side.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Flight song, performed high in the air, is a descending series of tinkling double notes. Call a series of sharp pips.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Sprague's Pipit

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Sprague's Pipit

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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